Criminal Justice Reform in Colorado

DPA believes that people who use drugs without experiencing problems should not be harmed by drug policies. People who do struggle with substance misuse should not face inhumane, wasteful collateral consequences that just perpetuate problematic drug use.

Colorado has begun to reverse the excesses of the drug war, including the mass arrest and incarceration of low-level drug offenders. It is essential to raise the voices of drug users themselves as well as health care professionals to balance the dominant role law enforcement plays in determining drug policy.

Our Work

Reducing Harms and Collateral Consequences While Promoting Equity

Often, the consequences of low-level drug arrests far outweigh the impact of drug misuse itself. We recognize that social determinants—conditions such as poverty, pervasive racism, mental health challenges, inadequate access to medical care, and homelessness—also contextualize drug use and often worsen the impacts of punitive enforcement within our most vulnerable populations.

DPA works to ensure that the collateral consequences many face in Colorado do not guarantee perpetual second-class citizenship and the inability to escape the labels and stereotypes of having been a “drug offender.” Colorado must sever the relationship between drug use and criminal justice-involvement and reduce barriers to re-entry by developing meaningful alternative solutions to punitive enforcement.

DPA is also working to bring transparency and accountability to Colorado’s civil asset forfeiture practices and advance marijuana-related policies that reduce collateral consequences and promote reparative justice and social equity. At the same time, we promote harm reduction policies that reduce the scope of the criminal justice system and bolster public health. We have a renewed interest to engage in this work from a municipal level to coincide with state efforts.

Colorado LEAD Campaign

In 2017, DPA convened the Colorado LEAD Campaign to successfully advocate for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) funding in the Colorado state budget. LEAD is a pre-booking (no arrest or fingerprinting takes place) diversion program model designed to bolster access to supportive wraparound services and reduce the role of the criminal justice system in the management of substance use-related problems. 

Four pilot programs are now being funded with monies from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund awarded as three-year grants through the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). DPA will monitor and help support implementation of the pilot programs in the awardee jurisdictions, Denver and Pueblo Counties and the Cities of Longmont and Alamosa. 
In March of 2018, State Director Art Way joined a delegation to Portugal to learn firsthand about that country’s groundbreaking drug decriminalization policy and gather insights to inform local efforts to remove criminal penalties for drug use and possession

Criminal Justice Reform